Making the Case for Gun Control

Death by guns is all too common in the United States, more common than anywhere else in the world.  On the right side of the aisle gun proponents insist that gun ownership is a right, not a privilege.  On the left, there is mostly silence, politicians afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and people who have surrendered in the face of an overwhelming enemy, the powerful gun rights lobby.

Following every mass shooting, people are outraged, grieving, and asking why, but that’s usually where it ends.  Candles are lit, people hold hands and sing songs of prayer.  It’s part of the mourning process and we all need to do it, but it doesn’t help the big picture which is guns in America.  Just last week Illinois was the 50th state to allow the carrying of concealed weapons, although it wasn’t their choice.  It was mandated by a federal judge.  Also last week, Florida celebrated the issuing of its one millionth gun permit, and yes it was an actual celebration.

In America everyone is expected to own a gun, like everyone old enough to drive is expected to own a car. It’s a part of the culture, but it’s a dangerous part of the culture, one that costs lives, innocent lives like those lost at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut.

What can we do about this?  Banning all guns is not an option in America, but banning assault weapon ownership is an option and a good first step. It was once against the law to purchase or possess assault rifles, until the Bush administration let the law expire under pressure from the NRA.  What’s next?  Marc Ambinder of The Week shares a few of his thoughts:

There are two factors common to mass shootings in the United States, and a “vector,” as the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg says, that links the two.

One is easy access to firearms capable of killing lots of people quickly. The second is the perpetrator’s having a history with mental illness.

The first point: significant minorities of all guns purchased or obtained in the United States are done without the benefit of an instant background check. This is not a loophole; it is a circus ring. The background checks are relatively limited in scope, as is normal. This is relevant because, for reasons of law and technologies, it is hard to scour the most relevant records quickly.

One of the most prolific rumors is that of this background check requirement, but as evidenced above it’s almost impossible to check criminal histories with an instant check and it is impossible to know who’s nuts and who isn’t.

The second point: the alleged gun-wielding murderers who shot up Columbine, Aurora, and Ft Hood, among many others, have all been discovered to have had in retrospect clear signs of mental illness. In some cases, privacy laws preventing doctors from disclosing this to employers and others. In others, the level of mental illness or distress was relatively benign; none of us would want our own human difficulties disclosed or added to a database as part of some sort of mass surveillance effort aimed at tracking everyone who has seen a psychiatrist.

So is it easier to tighten access to guns or broaden access to mental health records? Each may conflict with a value — the second amendment in one case and privacy in the next — but which value is worth sacrificing to some extent in order to move forward?

The answer to me is fairly obvious: Everyone who wants to have access to a gun can do so provided they register their weapon and get state-sanctioned training. The types of guns that people can carry on their persons ought to be limited to those made legitimately for self-defense. The gun show loophole should be closed; with the exception of family-to-family transactions or old weapons given as gifts, every sale or exchange of a weapon must be registered. The instant background check will be replaced for new gun owners with a state-approved training course that includes a more extensive background check. (Each state course would have to meet basic federal guidelines but could differ in the particulars.)

So how do we implement these necessary changes?  Why do we live in a country where it’s harder to get a driver’s license than it is to buy an AK47, a weapon designed for one purpose, killing people?

American politicians need to get off their butts. So far, most, including the president, have abdicated a moral responsibility to talk frankly about guns and rights, ironically, they say, because the issue is “complicated.” Goddamn right it’s complicated. That’s why we ought to talk about. Democrats still adhere to the fear that if they mention common-sense gun rules, their party will lose the backing forever of gun owners and those who see gun ownership as a stand-in for checking government power. For the most part, though, that coalition isn’t the Democratic Party’s coalition, and it becomes less so with every election.

The gun rights lobby, one of the most powerful in the nation, could lead the charge here, but I guarantee they won’t, because they’re afraid they’d lose the chance to demagogue politicians who rise up against them. The NRA’s opponents are as central to the NRA’s successes as anything else.

Now it’s time for a new approach on the federal level, and that means, Mr. President, you need to get involved, no matter how complicated the question.

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Posted by on December 15, 2012. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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26 Responses to Making the Case for Gun Control

  1. bitcodavid

    December 15, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Here’s a funny but prophetic story for you MM. I had a friend who traveled to New Zealand. He was in a bar, hanging out with the locals, when someone said, “You can’t be an American.” My friend said, “Sure I am.” The Kiwi said, “If you’re an American, where’s your gun?” That’s how the rest of the world looks at us. Sad, isn’t it?

  2. James Smith

    December 15, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Mike, let’s keep in mind, guns have existed in many societies long before these kind of insane assaults started happening. This same week, another maniac in China killed school children with a knife. Should we blame the cutlery maker?

    What if he had used rocks? Would we blame the rocks?

    I agree about we need better control of who owns guns. The problem is, the very people we want to keep away from guns are the ones that pay n attention to the laws. I also agree that gun ownership should require a demonstration of proficiency. See my essay on that at:

    Even with required licensing or even registration of weapons, it would still not prevent criminals and unstable individuals from having them and doing harm with them

    Here in Brazil it is almost impossible for a private citizen to won a firearm. Yet, criminals have no problem getting anything they want. Traficantes (drug dealers) are often better-armed than the police. In the UK, also with strict gun laws, the same situation exists, criminals have guns any time they want them.

    Perhaps we should focus on the society that breeds people that go berserk and suddenly slaughter innocent individuals.

    • Bill Formby

      December 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

      James, your point is well taken. However, I will say that in this country we could do with a lot fewer guns. In most countries it is harder for civilians to get and own guns than it is here in America. Of course, we have the highest rate of murders by gun than any other industrial or civilized country in the world. Per capita we have more guns than any other country in the world. So, at least in theory, fewer guns should mean fewer murders. Most murders are not committed by the criminal element anyway. It is most frequently domestic violence or neighborhood violence.
      Now on the other hand America fosters a culture of violence. I have written here a number of times that until we fix this we will always have this problem. The vast majority of Americans raise their children on the philosophy of resolving problems with violence. “I whip your butt (ass)” is probably the most often quoted phrase in the American lexicon than any other. when you put together this penchant for violent action with easily accessible guns the outcome is inevitable. Sure, one could attack another with knives, and they do, but they are few mass murders with knives or people killed by a stray knife wound or a knife accidentally going off. The same is true with rocks, clubs, strangulation etc. In human’s effort to better kill things we continue to perfect guns to be more efficient.

      • Michael John Scott

        December 15, 2012 at 11:19 am

        Guns also make killing impersonal Bill. You don’t have to get up close and personal like you do with rocks, clubs, knives, strangulation, and etc.

    • Jean Netherton

      December 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Those children in China did not die. That is the difference,

    • Zach

      December 16, 2012 at 9:53 am

      “it would still not prevent criminals and unstable individuals from having them and doing harm with them”

      This is a common argument used to justify the complete lack of regulation. “We can’t stop every one, so let’s not try to do anything about it.” More sensible regulation won’t stop every single incident – nothing can. But it will reduce the frequency and possibly severity.

      Should we stop building levees because we can’t stop every flood? Close down fire stations because we can’t put out every single fire? Of course not.

      • James Smith

        December 16, 2012 at 10:21 am

        I completely agree. If you read my article at:

        You’ll see that I do advocate some serious control over who can have a gun. Nor do I advocate that everyone should have one and full-auto weapons for private owners are ridiculous. For hobbyists and collectors, possibly. There are already laws about that (Class 3 license, for one) as there are laws about felons, and mental incompetents owning firearms.

        Of course regulation will not stop everything. It certainly has not here in Brazil as I have pointed out elsewhere. All I am saying is, let’s be realistic and require licensing the owners. Then we can be a little bis assured that they are not total incompetents. I know, that hasn’t been completely successful with driver’s licenses, has it? 😉 That’s an issue of application not intent.

    • Brian

      December 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      In your Guns or No Guns article, you admitted that proper gun owners should maintain proficiency. I agree. I also think that those that maintain proficiency do not leave their weapons where children, dangerous, or mentally unstable can access them. I liked the article because it seems you are pro-gun but only for responsible individuals in a manner that the 2nd amendment intended.

      My issue with many advocate of gun rights is usually that guns are easily accessible because the system is not responsible. Dangerous people can easily obtain weapons from family members. Regulations do not matter if they are poorly executed. I see that you want a responsible discussion but I do fear that the NRA wants to protect revenues for manufacturers and many gun advocates want to protect unfettered rights for themselves. Being responsible and accountable is the first step in most people getting what they want and the “right to bear arms” not being restricted to those who choose to own responsible.

      Lastly, I think that any weapon that is used in commission of a crime should bring additional charges against the gun owner. That should be enforced, even if the gun owner did not commit the crime (robbery, murder etc). That gun owner is guilty of negligence in nearly every circumstance.

      • James Smith

        December 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm

        Brian, thank you for your comments. Yes I do think that gun owners should remain proficient. You have to renew a driver’s license, admittedly, it’s too easy to get and keep, even though a ton of car is as deadly as any weapon. Pilot’s licenses are much better regulated with requirements for extra training and testing for different aircraft types. So the precedent is set for something similar.

        As I have said elsewhere, the flaw in the current system is not in intent, but in execution. It is far too easily subverted by those who should not and could not obtain a firearm legally.

        I suspect the licensing of gun ownership would help some of that but certainly not all of it. What one person can invent, another person can avoid. It happens everywhere with everything, cars, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and guns. That doesn’t mean we should not try.

        I also agree that, if your gun is out of your control and you do not immediately report it, you are responsible for what happens with it. All it would take is a phone call to the nearest law enforcement agency with the make, model, and serial number. Then you are absolved and have done all you can unless it is shown you were negligent and left it where it was easily taken.

  3. Tao Speaks

    December 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

    First off, in response to James, the incident in China of the deranged man who stabbed 22 children with a knife, has so far, not killed one of them. One child and an 85 year old woman are in critical condition but no one died.

    In regards to gun control; I have no idea what someone needs a semi automatic pistol with an extended clip for nor do I understand the need for an assault rifle. I know that lots of people believed they had a need for cigarettes and we had no problem taxing them to make possession expensive and making second hand smoke a reason to ban smoking from all public places.

    Maybe its time to acknowledge the simple fact that guns do kill people. That might be the point that we begin with….

    • Michael John Scott

      December 15, 2012 at 11:20 am

      Tao I agree on your main points, i.e. assault weapons and semi-automatic extended magazines. I think the whole gun issue rests with controlling who gets them. Right now virtually any idiot can buy a gun in America.

    • James Smith

      December 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      How nice that you ignored the point that guns, knives, clubs, and many other weapons have existed long before we started seeing the deranged people attacking malls, schools, and random strangers.

      From your post, I suspect you may not know what actually constitutes a semi-automatic pistol or an assault rifle.

      FYI, weapons are already taxed, regulated, and expensive. Do you think everyone should live their lives and limit their possessions and even thoughts to what you consider to be “proper?”

      Maybe it’s time we acknowledge the simple fact that it’s people that kill people. That would be a good point to begin with.

      • Tao Speaks

        December 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm

        Yes, James your are correct, weapons existed long before we started see “deranged” people attacking malls, schools, and random strangers.

        That is because weapons have been with us since eternity and malls, schools, and such are a much modern aspect of society.

        Where once guns, knives, and clubs were used for survival, defense, and food acquisiton we now find ourselves with supermarkets and police; surely you understand that we have advanced beyond the survival of the fittest?

        You are right I know nothing about guns, knives, or clubs for that matter. I do know that a deranged person in China stabs 22 kids and only wounds them while a deranged person in the US shoots 20 kids and kills every last one of them.

        I do not know how many times the deranged person in China swung his knife to stab 22 but I know that the deranged person in the US fired over 100 rounds. I also do not know how much time was involved to wound 22 Chinese kids but I know it took no time to fire off 100 rounds to kill 20 American kids.

        Imagine what the loss of life would have been if this deranged person in the US was limited to one “six shooter” and had to stop to reload?

      • Bill Formby

        December 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm

        James, you may be right only in that we haven’t saw deranged people committing mass murder. Prior to that it was completely, supposedly, sane people that massacred people to take their land. As I said previously humans have continuously improved on ways to kill animals and other humans as well. The European’s superior fire power overwhelmed the Native Americans in the country as well as in South America essentially slaughtering their food sources and the people themselves. It is basically the way this country was settled. Further, if you check the stats on homicides in this country you will find that 67% of the murders are committed by acquaintances or relatives of the victims. The vast majority are committed by firearms. When you consider that there are usually between 11,000 – 12,000 murders each year in the United States, the number killed by the deranged people isn’t that great, but the number that are killed by a friend or relative because they just got pissed off is pretty damn big.
        I am also familiar with weapons. I spent 4 years in the Marines, 6 years a cop, and the last 25 working on indigent capital murder cases (about 74 people charged with capital murder). Also like you I have been involved in the martial arts for the last 30 years. I will still say, as Mike said, there is no reason for civilians to possess assault rifles like AR 47’s or AR 15’s. They were designed for one thing, killing people. I also see no need for the extended round clips for the semi automatic pistols. If you can’t hit what you are shooting at with 15 rounds you don’t need to have the damn gun to begin with. These are simply common sense ideas, at least in this country. Ideally, if someone wants protection for his/her home a shotgun is probably is the best thing going.
        Personally, I don’t feel the need to own or possess a gun. I have a good dog and well honed 9 iron that will suit me just fine. Even when working on cases in the hood I don’t carry because there if you are carrying you are considered fair game.

        I am sure there are times when some people feel better with a gun but more often than not they will pull the gun before they need to or put themselves into dangerous situations because the gun makes them feel safer. I doubt seriously if George Zimmerman would have been out challenging Trevon Martin if he had not had a gun.
        Just saying…
        Sine Die

      • Cthulhu

        December 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

        Firearms are easier to get than a drivers licence. The Aurora shooter got his weapons, grenades and SWAT quality tac gear unseen and unchallenged, over the internet. That needs to change.

        If the hardcore second amendment gun bunnies don’t compromise in the least, they leave only one solution, and thats the banning of gun entirely. Your choice, cowboys.

        I say this as a 30 year gun carrier myself, ex cop, ex combat soldier, and CCW owner.

        Things MUST change.

        • James Smith

          December 16, 2012 at 11:16 am

          I agree completely. You are correct, firearms are often easier to get than a driver’s license and those are way too easy.

          That’s why I recommend the license being required to own any gun at all. Special endorsements should also be required for handgun, semi-automatic,and higher-caliber weapons. Much as pilot’s licenses require special training and testing for multi-engine, instruments, etc.

          If the licensing is ever implemented, I hope they are not a joke like driver’s licenses in many places.

  4. Michael John Scott

    December 15, 2012 at 11:15 am

    James I’m not advocating banning guns, except assault weapons which have no place in a civilized society. Banning guns, all guns, except hunting weapons, won’t happen in the United States. In point of fact, criminals using weapons is far from being a huge threat to average members of society, of course a gun victim might disagree. Anyway here are some recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice, with the added note that crime has dropped significantly, especially violent crime, since 1993:

    According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) in 2008, 303,880 victims of violent crimes stated that they faced an offender with a firearm.

    Incidents involving a firearm represented 7% of the 5.1 million violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault in 2008.

    The FBI’s Crime in the United States estimated that 68% of the 16,929 murders in 2007 were committed with firearms.

    So, the gun control opponents who spout the “only outlaws will have guns” do nothing to serve their purpose, because the threat of violence, by criminals, with guns, is just not that great. In point of fact the average America is more likely to get struck by lightning than be the victim of a gun related crime.

    Oddly when I was a young policeman, I was opposed to anyone being able to carry a concealed weapon other than cops. Then, in 1987 I believe, Florida passed a concealed carry law, and ten years later there was no increase whatsoever in gun related crimes, beyond the occasional accident. That convinced me that I couldn’t make a valid argument for banning guns altogether, but it doesn’t vacate the need for stronger gun ownership regulation.

    P.S. James you are welcome to publish that article here. It’s timely.

  5. James Smith

    December 15, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I agree, as you can tell from my article. As I say, you need a license to provide at least minimal proof of competence to drive a car, ply a plane, and in some places, operate a boat. Having the license does not mean you own any of these things or even intend to.

    Personally, I see no problem with a similar licensing plan for firearms. I have a close friend who teaches a concealed carry class in Arizona. He often fails people for range violations because he feels if they cannot follow simple safety rules on a range, how can they be expected to do so anywhere else? I think he makes a good point.

    Perhaps where you live, the threat of violence by criminals with guns is not that great. I assure you, it is not the case everywhere.

    Even if it were, saying that the “only criminals will have guns” argument is not valid doesn’t make any sense. Home invasions do happen. Assaults and rapes do happen. A person that remains defenseless and allows those to take place is not somehow morally superior to a person with a weapon that defends themselves.

    • Michael John Scott

      December 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      I spent my life in cops, almost 40 years, and am now, like Bill Formby, a university professor teaching criminal justice and criminology, so as to your last paragraph let’s just say we agree to disagree and leave it at that 🙂

      • James Smith

        December 15, 2012 at 12:18 pm

        I have spent 40 years in Martial arts and have trained police officers in three countries. SO I do have a little experience behind me. Yes, we can agree to disagree.

        I am under no illusions that you can convert anyone on issues of religion, politics, or gun control. All you can do is state your case and know that you are telling the truth as you know it and hope other people will recognize that.

  6. rowdy62

    December 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    This is about guns, and about the culture that allows them. I’m not sure which one says the most, the former or the latter.

  7. bitcodavid

    December 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    @AnonymousNot and lincoln82 – I have been commenting on this board for a long time, and I have written several articles for MM. I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of James Smith. Yes, he can come off a bit snarky, but he is a man who sticks by his convictions. He has never been rude or insulting, in my experience, but his replies can be a bit edgy. I just take it as a part of the healthy disagreement that leads to problem resolution.

    In numerous exchanges, he has never treated me with anything but respect, and likewise – I, him. We often disagree, but neither of us has ever allowed that disagreement to devolve to rudeness or name calling.

  8. bitcodavid

    December 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    P.S. Hopefully I can scare up some time – and take up some of his and Erin’s slack.

  9. Dave Wren

    December 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Mikey, and I know you hate that, you did good man. So, now back to guns: we should disallow ownership beyond certified hunting weapons. Simple. The shotguns, the thirty odds, with others, those are the ones that are good to go. The rest, those AK’s and shit. No way man. Carrying hand pieces, concealed, no way man unless you can prove that you can be a cop and go through their testings. What it is man.

  10. Brian

    December 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    We do need to better regulate who gets guns. Initially, we need to be certain that all sales of guns are registered. I know that someone will speak of illegal access. That is a point of execution, for the most part. There will never be a logical reason to have a gun beyond that needed for basic self defense. That means self defense against a person with a single legal weapon. Easy access is one of the biggest factors in all of the mass killings that I know of. We need more news related to the prevention of mass murders because the mentally ill person we denied access or access was taken because that person was considered dangerous by a mental professional. This requires follow through that would be very difficult but it should operate in much the same way that a mdeical health professional must report a potential crime, when they treat someone who may have been victimized but does not wish police involvement. When an individuals rights are properly denied (you may not like this) to prevent potential/valid opportunity to harm others, that is good policy. People who wish to harm others or are potentially dangerous should be restricted until the ability to contribute to society without harm to other is established. Your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is denied once that infringes on someone else’s right to the same. You will need to pass an additional mental screening to have your weapons returned.

    Many times the gun used to kill people belonged to family members, friends etc. If you can not control access to that weapon, you are criminally & civilly liable for those murders based upon your negligence to control access to your weapon. If you don’t believe this is fair; consider how you would feel if your family was murdered because some idiot did not control access to his fully automatic weapon, bullet proof vest, and other tactical gear. I would say that we deserve to have our family left unharmed much more than we deserve to have a weapon. You may not agree.